What is plain is that the law, which Prime Minister John Key said “anyone can drive a bus through”, is hopelessly inadequate. Local Government Minister David Carter confirmed this week that the Local Electoral Act will be amended before next year’s local body elections – but it seems the intention is only to bring it into line with the rules of the Electoral Act (which covers MPs). The local version sets no limit on the number or size of anonymous donations. Nor does it stop the use of trusts to ensure donors’ anonymity.
But it is time to go further and stop anonymous donations altogether. Nobody expects disclosure of the source of each coin thrown into a plastic bucket at a meeting. But it is fundamentally inimical to the idea of democracy that people can donate large amounts of money to political campaigns without voters’ knowing about it. Generous donors don’t give money to politicians without expecting something in return, and we should know who is giving what, not for the hell of it, but so that politicians’ behaviour can be assessed in the light of the largesse.
I can only assume the editorial writer doesn’t know the Electoral Act well. It does effectively ban large anonymous donations. No party or candidate can accept an anonymous donation of over $1,500.
There is an avenue where a donor can donate anonymously through the Electoral Commission, so long as they sign statements swearing the recipient party does not know of the donation. It wasn’t used a lot, and I actually support it being removed.
One can debate about whether the limit for anonymous donations should be $1,500 and what the disclosure limit should be ($1,500 for candidates, $15,000 for parties) and should these limits applies to local body campaigns.
Ideally the disclosure limit would be variable based on the size of the campaign. A $2,000 donation to an Auckland mayoral candidate is probably 0.2% of their total campaign spending, while the same donation to a small district council might be 10% of their total spending.